Transportation group says NJDOT capital plan veers away from ‘smart transportation policies’

TRENTON – A regional transportation group says that the state Transportation Department’s capital program for fiscal year 2012 calls for spending too much on road widening projects and has moved away from the funding of smart transportation policies.

Such a trend is cause for concern for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which released its report on the state’s capital project plans on Monday.

The group expressed concern that funding for signature smart growth programs, and projects that have made New Jersey a national leader in smart transportation policy, had been eliminated.

“The Transit Village program is popular with municipalities because it helps them target development to the most appropriate location, near rail and bus hubs,” said Janna Chernetz, New Jersey Advocate for TSTC. “But Transit Village funding has been completely eliminated from the 2012 program.”

State Transportation Department officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s report states that 44 percent of the NJDOT’s 2012 capital program is dedicated to fixing and maintaining roadways and bridges, while 11 percent of funds are going to road expansion projects. Spending on roadway and bridge maintenance has declined since 2008, when it made up 46.9 percent of the capital program.

While spending on road and bridge maintenance still makes up the largest portion of the proposed budget, the agency will be spending a larger portion of its capital program on new construction than it has in any year in nearly a decade. Spending on new road capacity was 3.6 percent of the capital program in 2009 and 8.9 percent in 2011, and has generally hovered around 5 percent since 2004.

The group noticed some positive developments, praising the NJDOT for increasing spending on biking and walking projects. Funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects is now nearly 3 percent of the agency’s overall spending, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s report showed.

The group’s report made several recommendations. They include:

*Recommit to the fix-it-first policy mandated in 2000 to reduce the backlog of deficit roads and bridges by half as the state approves the Transportation Capital Program this year.

*Review proposed road expansion projects and call off projects that will not offer sustainable congestion relief.

*Create a consistent fix-it-first policy among all state transportation agencies, including NJDOT and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

*Restore and increase funding for the state’s smart growth programs to ensure continued progress on these initiatives. Dedicate at least 1 million annually to NJ Transit Village program and the Centers of Place program. It also recommended launching a new round of NJ FIT projects that help towns plan for the future.

*Continue funding bicycle and pedestrian projects, targeting financial support to places with the highest number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths. Restore funding to the Safe Routes to Transit program to at least $1 million annually

*Use money previously earmarked for Access to the Region’s Core for its intended purpose of improving the cross-Hudson commute.

*Find new sources of revenue. The proposed capital program relies on $1.8 billion in transfers from the state’s General Fund over five years, revenues that presently do not exist.

The department responded later Monday to the Tri-State position.

“The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s proposed FY 12 capital program prioritizes safety and state-of-good-repair projects. While the size of the entire program remains the same as in FY 11, it increases investments in road and bridge repair, rehabilitation and replacement projects, which seems to be precisely what Tri-State is advocating for,” spokesman Tim Greeley said in a statement.

“The proposed FY 12 program increases funds for road and bridge improvements by $210 million, which works out to 23 percent above FY 11 programming. This capital program balances the reality of limited resources with the twin imperatives of promoting public safety and maintaining our assets in a state of good repair.

“In its analysis of the proposed FY 12 capital program, Tri-State mischaracterizes the $900 million Direct Connection project in southern New Jersey as an expansion project, when in fact it re-engineers existing roads to improve safety and reduce congestion.”

Transportation group says NJDOT capital plan veers away from ‘smart transportation policies’